The poll results are in, and this month it’s a blowout — 81% for an excerpt from Dragon Stones. It looks like my advice to “vote early, vote often” was really taken to heart by readers in April! So, without further ado, here is a randomly-selected scene from Dragon Stones:
From the cover of the trees, Adaran assessed the situation. First off, the voice; even though it was dressed up with thunder, he recognized it. Adaran had suspected all along that Orioke had escaped Dosen’s treachery, but why would he come here and threaten Flaurent except on Dunshandrin’s orders? Had the attack on the wizard’s tent been staged? He didn’t think so. Orioke must have found his way back to Dunshandrin and come to some arrangement with the lord and the princes. Now they had sent him out as their agent, to deal with Dosen’s failure. Adaran doubted that Orioke had the power to level the college’s sturdy structures, but the Headmistress and Diasa would not know that. Faced with this display, Adaran thought, they would likely hand him over to spare themselves the risk of destruction.
Suddenly the light changed, intensified, and he found himself standing in a glaring column of it. Orioke was illuminating him for all to see. Shading his eyes, he spotted someone moving quickly toward his refuge, a big man carrying a sword. Certainly not Diasa, nor one of her guards.
He bolted, running toward the central avenue where he had walked with Diasa earlier in the day. The spotlight moved with him, blinding him. He crashed into someone and they both went down in a tangle of limbs. He rolled away and sprang to his feet, but he couldn’t see who he had knocked down, or where the swordsman was, or even what direction he was now facing.
“Who’s there?” he cried.
A voice, dark and scratchy like the surface of a well-worn bar, said: “You knocked down some old woman. She looks angry.”
“Barbarian!” That voice belonged, unquestionably, to the Headmistress. “This is not how you come to Flaurent to claim a fugitive!”
Suddenly the harsh column of light around Adaran faded, returning to its original glare; what had seemed intolerably bright before was now a welcome relief. The Headmistress was getting to her feet, adjusting her dirty robes; the man with the sword stood nearby, watching this with a smile, as if he found her an amusing clown. Adaran realized he had met this fellow before, in Dunshandrin’s castle, when they had first been dispatched on their errand. “Gelt?” he said.
“The very same.”
“You’re supposed to be in Enshenneah.”
“My job there is long since finished. I’ve a new task now.”
Realization finally dawned. “You took the little girl.”
Gelt laughed. “Here I am, come to kill you, and that is your concern? But yes, one of my men delivered her to Dosen for safekeeping. I hear he succeeded in that no better than he did in dealing with you lot.”
Diasa was coming, running toward them with a group of guards at her back. They seemed to have adapted to the light, or perhaps they found its reduced intensity less troubling. Gelt appeared not to have noticed them yet.
“Dosen was unsuccessful in many things,” Adaran said.
“Yes, well, perhaps Dunshandrin will thank you for ridding him of one of his less competent servants. I warned them not to entrust Dosen with that operation, but they were damned impatient.” He pointed his sword at Adaran. “Where would you like it? I’ve nothing against you, so I am willing to make this quick.”
“Why kill me?” Adaran said. “I’m no threat.”
“Because they told me to.”
“Can we make a deal?”
Gelt cackled. “What do you have to offer me? An Enshennean toddler and a crone?”
Diasa and her soldiers were closing, a hundred yards away, maybe less. Gelt glanced their way, turned to meet them. Suddenly the ground began to shake, throwing Gelt and the Headmistress off balance; Adaran managed to keep his footing, adjusting to the heaving earth. A chasm opened behind Gelt, spreading, widening, dirt and sand falling down into darkness. Diasa skidded to a halt just shy of the edge, then urged her creatures back as the lips began to crumble. More than one of them was lost, vanishing silently into the crevice.
Something emerged from the abyss, a column made of shifting earth and stone, bearing a lopsided figure that a child might have assembled of rocks and mud.
“Deliban!” the Headmistress cried. “I did not summon you!”
The golem raised its arms and spread them wide; a roar filled the night as the crevice spread east and west, splitting the college in two. Smaller cracks appeared, branching off from the large one. Trees toppled over; water gushed from broken pipes; grey fingers of dust scratched at the air. The ground itself swelled beneath Adaran, bulging, pushing him upward. Now he did fall, toppling over backwards, but talons clamped onto his shoulders, cutting through his clothing and digging into his flesh. Moments later he felt the earth fall away as beating wings lifted him into the sky. He reached up and felt the scaly legs of a great bird.
“Hello again, Adaran,” Orioke called from his perch on the beast’s back. “I am here to take you back to Dunshandrin’s castle. The journey will go by faster if you sleep through it, don’t you agree?”
The wizard spoke a few words; Adaran found himself growing weary, even though the pain in his shoulders was fresh and raw and his feet were kicking over empty space and the air was full of screams as the creature called Deliban tore Flaurent to pieces.
Moments later, he was fast asleep.
Things go from bad to worse for poor Adaran after this; if your day ends with getting carried away by a giant bird, you can be pretty sure that your morning isn’t going to be very good, either.
The poll results have been reset and you can now begin voting for June’s scene-of-the-month now!